• Published

The last chapter in Goldome's final hours began Friday when 55 Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. employees and hundreds of bank employees met secretly in the ballroom of the Hyatt Regency Buffalo.

As the employees of the FDIC and Key and M&T banks received a last-minute briefing, customers lined up at Goldome's branches, some pulling their money out of the bank in reaction to Thursday's news that the bank would be sold on Friday, others cashing paychecks and making deposits.

For two days, Goldome's central switchboard had been jammed with calls from customers, many of them angry at the news that federal banking regulators were about to close their bank, Goldome employees said.

Apprehensive employees had spent the day either dealing with customers or trying to console each other as they worried about the future of their jobs.

By midafternoon word had circulated through Goldome's headquarters and main branch that the feds would show up at 3 p.m.

At 2:30 p.m. about 100 Goldome employees gathered in the lobby of the Goldome Center, the office building attached to Goldome's main branch, to say good-bye to their boss, President Thomas A. Cooper.

Many of the workers were holding ballons and wearing buttons with Goldome's slogan, "Doing more to be your bank," a slogan that Cooper had first used in television commercials.

Some were crying, while others were trying to boost the crowd's spirits with clapping and cheers.

"This is just terrible . . . I can't believe this is happening," said one employee, who refused to give his name.

Another worker added: "We gave it our best shot. But the FDIC just didn't give us enough time to save the bank."

Just before 3 p.m. two well-dressed men carrying briefcases stepped through the revolving door of the main branch. They looked no different than the customers lined up at the teller windows.

Within 15 minutes, the two men, both security guards, were assisting a swarm of Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. agents and other security guards as the FDIC seized the branch.

As several FDIC representatives carrying large briefcases and boxes rode the escalator up to Cooper's third-floor office, the crowd of Goldome employees shouted, "Boo, FDIC! Boo, FDIC!"

The crowd also repeatedly chanted Cooper's name, demanding that he appear and speak to them. The executive's secretary finally asked the bank employees to go back to work because Cooper couldn't bring himself to meet with them.

The crowd responded by slowly dispersing. As they did, they let go of their helium balloons, which quickly filled the lobby ceiling in Goldome Center.

When everyone had left, Cooper emerged from the bank's executive suite to see if meeting rooms had been prepared for M&T and Key bank representatives. He refused to answer any questions from the media, saying "No comment, I have work to do."

In the main branch, photocopied notices of the FDIC's action were quickly taped to the branch bank's three main doors, which then were locked. The revolving door facing Main Street also was blocked off.

The nearly 75 customers who remained inside the bank were let out through a door adjoining the Goldome Center after completing their business as agents continued to stream in.

Security guards standing at the door told dozens of customers -- some surprised, others angered -- that the bank was closed for the day.

"I'm sort of shocked," said James T. Smith, a South Buffalo resident who said he has been a Goldome depositor for 10 years. "I didn't know this was happening."

A notice to depositors posted on all three doors of the branch said: "The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) has arranged for the deposit accounts of this bank to be assumed by Key Bank/M&T Bank."

Caryl Austrian, an FDIC press officer, confirmed the closing and assured customers that "their money is safe."

"It was just all of a sudden," said James Drye, who read the notice on the front door shortly after the closing. "They didn't say anything about it before."

Dozens of customers were turned away at the door adjoining the Goldome Center, where guards repeatedly apologized and told them the news. Some customers questioned the security guards about the safety of their money and when the bank would reopen.

The scene was repeated in each of Goldome's 32 Western New York branches, Ms. Austrian said.

FDIC representatives seized each branch's charter, locked the doors, disabled the automated teller machines, and read a memo to employees.

"There had to be an official moment when Goldome ceased to exist," Ms. Austrian said.

As each branch was seized, word was relayed through a telephone network set up by the FDIC.

By 3:21 p.m., the network had sent a prearranged signal to a beeper worn by Gary Paul, a senior vice president of M&T Bank, who sat in a 19th floor office at One M&T Plaza with his boss, Robert G. Wilmers, chairman of M&T Bank; Victor J. Riley Jr., chairman of KeyCorp, and Gary Allen, chairman of Key Bank of Western New York.

"I would like to interrupt to make an announcement on the grounds that my beeper has nothing but nines on it, we have now taken it over," he said.

"Good," said Riley.

While they prepared to hold a press conference to announce their purchase of Goldome, some customers at the main Goldome branch expressed their shock and disappointment.

"You mean it just folded?" exclaimed one customer after a guard told her of the closing.

"When I get my money, I'm gonna build a damn hole to put my money in," said another depositor, as he walked away from the door.

Goldome depositor Isaiah Warren echoed the feelings of many who learned of the closing.

"I just really want my money back," Warren said. "I want to make sure my money is safe."

Mike Cox, a Buffalo resident who opened checking and savings accounts at Goldome earlier this year, said he was surprised by the closing.

Cox said he was not sure whether he would move his money to another bank. "I'll have to wait and see if M&T continues with free checking," Cox said.

Vince Torrence of Buffalo said he was frustrated by the timing of the action. "They picked a Friday when they know everyone has to cash their checks," Torrence said. "They've got everyone jammed up."

Some customers and stockholders said they were angry over the loss to the community.

"I just feel for the senior citizens who put their life savings into it," said Philip S. Montgomery, 64, a life-long Goldome customer who had purchased 400 shares of Goldome stock at $7 a share when it was first offered to the public in 1987.

"I just think it was a cruel hoax perpetrated on the people of Western New York by the underwriters," he added.

Dick Cialfi of Cheektowaga became a Goldome customer right after he got out of the armed services in 1948 and got a $7,500 mortgage at 4 percent interest.

"They were the friendliest bank in town, but they lost that" in the 1980s, he said. "It is unbelievable that this would ever happen."

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